The landlord of the small industrial unit that has been our gym for the last 6 years, two-thirds of my Jiu Jitsu time, wants it back so we are now without a home. It wasn't much - it was too hot, or too cold, depending on the time of year - it was dirty, falling apart, but it served us well and kept our costs low. A move was always on the cards anyway as Dean moved house and now lives much further away from the gym, meaning a lengthy drive for him.
So, right now, it remains to be seen what the next chapter for our small band will be. And where it will be. I suspect the changes may see some eventual changes in personnel as the additional travel for some will prove difficult. We'll see what happens.
In the meantime though, I'm something of a "Ronin", which is actually a pretty good thing. For some time I've been quite frustrated by my own feelings that I've not really been progressing. I've also seen a good many people that started training around the same time as me achieving good things and well deserved promotions. This is not about the belt I wear at all - Jesus, I've had my blue belt now for coming up to 5 years - It's so faded that people can't tell if it's meant to be blue or faded purple. If I felt that my technical proficiency was keeping up, I'd be happy, but I know it isn't and that's what's frustrating.
For me, this situation means that, in order to train, I can take a pick of the various places and schedules around; (1) to get some training; (2) get a taste of different styles and instruction and; (3) benchmark myself against others beyond my usual training partners. In the run up to my blue belt, this was something I did quite frequently and I really felt it helped me get where I was going. Not least, the challenge of rolling at another club, really sharpened up my game.
So, within a 30 minute drive, I've got options with Carlson Gracie Kent (Tonbridge, Maidstone and Ashford). I know many of these guys from quite some time back - a great bunch of guys who train hard, fight hard and love their Jiu Jitsu. . I've also got options with the small and enthusiastic group at Karasac Kali in Sidcup. I've also got regular Judo once a week on Fridays, which I'm still enjoying and making leisurely progress in.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Carlson Gracie Tonbridge's Friday night open mat. I spoke to Dave Broughton about it, so knew I'd get a nice welcome and I wasn't wrong...it was really great to see those guys again and, as always, they were genuinely pleased to see me and it was good to see them. As I mentioned some time back in a previous post, I had more adrenalin than usual as I made the short drive to the session - partly knowing that I was going to get some hard sparring and partly wondering how I'd get on. Once I got going, it was all good. Against many blue belts I did OK. Rolling with one big and very strong blue belt was really tough though - and not just because of his size and strength - his technique and movement were also very good. I tapped several times. It was the same story against another big guy who now holds a purple belt. Back when he was a white and blue belt, training with him was tough because of his size and strength, but I was generally able to overcome this. Now is a different story. Gone is the tough Jiu Jitsu and in its place is a technical and dominant purple belt game.
It was these two experiences in particular that were of the most interest to me. One from the perspective of rolling with a guy my size who has less experience but is the same grade and the other from the perspective of rolling a guy who is my size, but who I once had the measure of and is now a higher grade than me. Both good measures of where I'm really at right now. I tapped. A lot. And I'm not bothered by that as each time I learned something new. I spent a while talking to both of them afterwards and they both gave me really good pointers on what they felt from me. My own reflection also drew out things from my own memory that I know, but didn't think to try at the time, so some nice revision too. I guess what bothers me most is my own lack of progression and this experience made this very clear. I'm not bad. I'm a decent blue belt. But I've been training now for coming up to nine years. By now, I should really be more than a decent blue belt. And again, I'm not talking about the actual belt I wear, I'm talking about what I can do.
I think back to when I was focussing on my blue belt and some of the experiences I had then - I could dominate most white belts and give some blue belts a pretty hard time too. I feel, after this amount of time, I should at least be all over other blue belts and hanging with purples, but that isn't happening. Somewhere along the way, I've been left behind.
I've also been training, not with any degree of regularity, with Paul and the crew at Karasac. I've mentioned Paul before, so won't re-cap, but they're a small and really friendly bunch who just want to train good, technical Jiu Jitsu. It's always a pleasure visiting them and I do what I can to pass on what knowledge I have that may help.
This leads me neatly to talk about this past weekend. I've mentioned in a previous post, Michel Verhoeven - a 4 stripe brown belt under Rickson Gracie and Harold Harder in Holland. I met Michel at Rickson's seminar and it was good to be able to begin that friendship with our new connections in Europe. I first became aware of Michel when he took over the running of schools in Holland for Harold, who took some time out from Jiu Jitsu. Michel was a young but talented blue belt at the time. Fast forward a few years and he's now an accomplished 4 stripe brown belt and quite an athlete. Anyway, Michel messaged me through facebook to say that he was in London this weekend and looking to train. Ordinarily, that would be easy as we had 24/7 access to our old gym. But with this gone, this was not going to be possible. However, the coincidence of Paul's session being on a Sunday, in Sidcup (not far from where Michel was staying) I thought why not set something up there? I would get to train with Michel and the Karasac guys would get some good high level instruction. Winner! And so it was arranged.
Most of the Karasac guys have been training around a year now I guess, so Michel agreed to cover some fundamental stuff. Given this, it was a good opportunity for me to also invite a long-time friend of mine who has been interested in Jiu Jitsu to come along and get a taste. Simon also joined in the fun. We really had a great time... a great technical warm up, nice techniques working shrimp, upa, cross collar choke from back and mount, armlocks and sweeps and topped off with a bit of rolling. Michel taught every technique with great detail and even though for many it was technique that was known, it was the fine detail that made the difference. Michel is clearly a talented guy and a great instructor - we all gained something from the session. During the rolling, Michel tried his hardest to roll with almost everyone. He was great - he was just everywhere..and nowhere. As I tried to escape, he was always one step ahead, if I tried to advance my position, he exploited my movement and swept or submitted me with ease. Just great. He also fed back to me that he felt I was not using my strength or size to my advantage and this is something Simon has said to me before too.
For many years, I've tried hard to work good technique and train light to let technique do the work. I never wanted to be the one that people said "oh, yeah, he beat me but that's because he's a big/heavy/strong guy". I hate that. It's such a pussy thing to say. If I tap you, I tap you because in that instance, I caught you...not because I'm bigger, so to avoid that I've tried to train like a smaller guy. But you know what? I've noticed that smaller guys are usually quicker, or some people are more flexible, some are stronger. And not one of them has ever stopped being quick, flexible or strong when they train with me, and you won't hear me bitching that they only beat me because they were faster, more flexible or whatever. I guess it's called using your attributes. And this feedback tells me I should start using my attributes. So watch out...no more Mr Nice Guy ;P
It was really great to meet up with Michel and share some mat time with him. I personally got a lot from it and I'm sure everyone who trained did too. It's a relationship I hope we can develop from here. Thanks Michel. Check out Michel's website here and a nice little film below (my Dutch is not good but I think you get the drift - nice choice of track too!).
So where does all this leave me at the moment? Well, without a regular club for now. To be clear, I have no intention of moving permanently outside of my Rickson lineage and anyone with loyalty to their lineage will understand that. But Carlson's in Kent give me training options pretty much every day of the week, all the while they'll have me, so I thank them for that and their kind hand of friendship. I will look to do at least one friday open mat with them a month - I want to continue with my Judo, so will do that 3 weeks out of four with 1 Friday in four over there. I'll see how the rest of the schedules fit in. Then there's Sunday Eve's at Sidcup. It's easy to get to and always a good little session so I may look to do that with more regularity.
All in all, this" Ronin" period in my training could be a really good thing, so I look forward to a new order emerging from the chaos.